Victoria’s festival man John Vickers found himself thrust upon the international stage in October after a national tragedy in Canada’s capital.
As gunshots rang out on Parliament Hill killing Canadian soldier, Corp. Nathan Cirillo, on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial, then in the halls of Parliament where many MPs were attending caucus, John’s thoughts turned to his older brother Kevin, Sergeant-at-Arms for the House of Commons. “There was a period of time there where we didn’t know if he’d been shot,” he says.
Kevin, though had launched into action taking down the gunman in a violent face-to-face shootout.
“He’s lamenting, these days, on the over-focus on him and the extent of the actions of the security force and all the other law enforcement officials involved,” says John. “I told him people want to focus on a hero. Someone they can gravitate towards.”
John, who now runs the Victoria International Chalk Art, Buskers and Kite Festivals, has a background as a radio announcer, and quickly became the family spokesperson, even as the event unfolded.
The first concern for the large family, which includes older sister Mary, and two younger brothers Will and Kingston, was to make sure their mother was OK and knew all was well with Kevin.
“For me, it was not really knowing the magnitude of what was going on until CTV contacted me,” says John. The station was contracted to provide feed of Vickers to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Good Morning America and the Today Show. He was then contacted by the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal and radio stations around the world.
“It wasn’t just Canadian networks. It reminded me what an international event it was.”
Talking about his brother’s heroism is easy says John. “I’ve always admired the person he is and what he’s been able to do with his life.”
Though scattered across North America, Will in the Yukon and Kingston in Clearwater Fl. the family remains close with mom Monica who still resides in New Brunswick, father Bill died in 2004.
The Vickers family grew up on a co-op dairy farm in the small town of Chatham, which has since been amalgamated into Miramashi, NB.
Their father ran the farm with a passion for the co-op movement, says John. “When we were growing up we would always be hosting students. He’d be teaching African students about running a co-op dairy, so they could learn to run a dairy farm or processing facility. It instilled in me a sense of making the world a better place – that was much of his life.”
After a short career in radio and a longer one in security which led him to a five-year stint in New York City, John quit the rat race and moved to Victoria. “I realized I was too Canadian to stay,” he says with a laugh.
Now he finds as much satisfaction, if not more, in making deals that will benefit the community, rather than for corporate good.
He began by starting the Victoria Masquerade Ball in 2005, his Pumpkin Art display also grew and, he says, after Folk Fest died and the Tall Ship Festival sailed into the distance in 2011, a gap opened up for the Victoria International Buskers Festival. “Timing is everything,” says John, whose plan from the start included three annual festivals.
With the addition of the Victoria International Chalk Art Festival and Victoria International Kite Festival last year, his goal now is to grow each one of the events.
Some 175,000 people attended Buskers over the 10 days of the 2014 event. The free event makes Victoria a more fun place to visit during the summer, he says.
The innaugural Kite Festival, which is scheduled to run again in 2015, saw some 500 kids making their own kites. Chalk art draws artists from around the globe turning Government street into a giant art gallery for two days in September.
The fall is usually a slower time for John, who was home visiting his mom for Thanksgiving in October, just days prior to the Ottawa shooting. “Normally, I wouldn’t go for Christmas, but my brother Will – who never goes for Christmas is going this year, as is Kevin … I struggle to leave Victoria and fly to the other end of the country when I know it will be minus 20 and snowing, but this year I’m thinking I might head out there as well.”